bookend 2: manifesto of the communist party

This is the last of my “manifesto” series.

But it was maybe the first that I thought about. Because as I watch the news and see the pictures in Egypt and Sudan and the middle east <and everything else associated with a populace driven revolution> I thought about the manifesto of the communist party (more commonly known as The Communist Manifesto).

Now. I am not a communist. But all the things happening in the streets of … well … pretty much every city these days started thinking about the power of the common everyday people.

Or ‘every day people unite’ (which is actually the close to the manifesto).

So I plucked my copy of the manifesto off my shelf and reread it.

If you have never read it this comment may seem daunting.  But The Communist Manifesto is only 53 pages long.

Less if you skip the Communist Literature section (which was outdated almost at first publishing).

It is an astonishing little read.

And it is also astonishing to think it was written by a 30 and 28 year old (Marx and Engel respectively).  It is an amazingly concentrated brief document written with an intellectual stylishly personal perspective.

From its opening “a spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism” to the closing of “the proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” the pamphlet is full of simplicity which still rings true today.

There are a couple of “truths” to think about before I get to the Manifesto.

–          Truth 1. Communism is better as a theoretical model then as a day to day reality.

–          Truth 2. Today’s world actually has nothing to do with the working class/common people … it is actually an uprising of the middle class who is losing what they had.

–          Truth 3. Some of the building block thoughts and components of the Communist Manifesto are insightful and truthful and when looked at with vision explain much of what we see around us in today’s world.

Interestingly … in a truly academic point of view … if you look at today’s world … socialism is more a middle class movement and communism a working class movement.

And socialism <or at least aspects of it to those who truly understand what it is> has always been quasi-respectable and communism not.

Marx suggested that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself. Communism therefore is the same as that of all proletariat (working class) parties – formation of the workers into a class and ultimately the overthrow of the bourgeois (wealthy elite) supremacy.  Therefore … communism is not based on ideas or principles but rather the rights of a “working class” of people.


When I type something like that … and think about today … well … it sure does make you think.


The Manifesto.

–          Note: where appropriate I substituted worker/worker class for proletariat and wealthy elite for bourgeoisie.

Capitalism leads to exploitation. The wealthy elite has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science into its paid wage laborers. It has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation. – Manifesto

–          Capitalism does lead to exploitation. However … capitalism also leads to innovation, improvement, increased standard of living as well as a variety of other positives. If I could have sat good ole Karl down I believe I would have suggested an additional word – “unfettered.” Unfettered (or un-managed) capitalism leads to exploitation. But. I am not as smart as Karl so I think I will leave it as is and suggest this is one of the few flaws in the Communist Manifesto. A big flaw but one of the few.

“The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the working class; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests” – Manifesto

–          “They defend their future interests.” Oh my. I believe something we tend to forget is that democracy and communism are both class based ideologies. And both are based on protecting the majority classes. I am not suggesting they are the same just have some basic ideological similarities. If you accept that, you can read the Communist Manifesto not as a communist but rather as someone interested in everyone getting a fair shake.

“soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of wealthy elite society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented. – Manifesto

–          This is Schumpeter’s Creative Destruction. Schumpeter was not a Marxist, communist nor a Capitalist. He was simply an economist who believed that <simplistically> the new will destroy the old as it evolved into a better place. That destructive crises naturally occurred as a way to replace that which is with what will be.

“In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.” – Manifesto

–          Basically Marx outlines a global economy, nation’s interdependent upon each other, as well as intellectual collaboration, before there was ever the world wide web. Go figure.

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones. – Manifesto

–          Marx did a nice job of providing historical reference for classes and, ultimately, class conflict. Civilization is almost always defined by the struggle between have and have-nots. And the belief by the have nots, realistic or not, that someday they can become a ‘have.’ That being said one of the major flaws in the Communist theory is that it overlooks this basic human attitude (leading to behavior). Have-nots or Have-somes are just fine with the Haves as long as they believe (a) opportunity exists, if they work hard enough, to enter into the Have group and (b) the Haves don’t have disproportionate wealth versus the Have-nots. People inherently like working toward something … even if it is just a dream. Marx designed a utopian ideology where all are equal. In theory it is an interesting concept. In practicality the majority of people don’t desire that.

Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of the feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth. Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product. – Manifesto

–          This is interesting to me because ultimately the concept of Communism is dependent upon a society bereft of a real & viable middle class.  Just when communism could have taken hold worldwide capitalism permitted the working class to evolve into a viable thriving middle class. Today? The middle class feels threatened … as it is getting dragged down closer & closer to “proletariat” level. Therefore it is revolting (Occupy movement, Red Square protesters, Middle East upheaval, etc.)

But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalised, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labour, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes.” – Manifesto

–          While components of this are dead on … where Marx/Engel got it wrong was that the development of industry actually increased the strength of the middle class. That doesn’t make this thinking any less thoughtful, or brilliant.  That last sentence … makes their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes … summarizes exactly what is happening today.

In countries where modern civilisation has become fully developed, a new class of petty bourgeois has been formed, fluctuating between proletariat and bourgeoisie, and ever renewing itself as a supplementary part of bourgeois society. The individual members of this class, however, are being constantly hurled down into the proletariat by the action of competition, and, as modern industry develops, they even see the moment approaching when they will completely disappear as an independent section of modern society, to be replaced …” – Manifesto

–          Marx recognized the emerging middle class it is just that he never envisioned it gaining such a stronghold in developed societies. But, once again, I would like to point out that those who “had” <once part of the ‘haves’> start the slippery slope of having to ‘not have’ <note: just by ‘not having’ does not mean you become a “have not”> they begin to feel supplementary rather than essential. I imagine my real point here is that the economic situation is almost as much about attitudes as it is about real economic issues.

“Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.”- Manifesto

–          Well. if there was ever a better written indictment against elitist driven governments I am not sure I have ever read one. The problem with any government in any country is the ability to do what is best for each constituent as well as the whole of the constituents. Unless there is a dictatorship the happiness <derived from some aspect of ‘what is best for me’> of the population dictates the overall success of not only the government but of the nation as a whole. Governments have to be careful they do not become a class in itself.


I included this next portion not to really make any point other than many of us have a sense of the underpinnings of communism but they are typically tainted by our view of Communist Soviet Union. Marx/Engel had a vision. A complete vision. And while we may shiver at some aspects (those of us in a social democracy like America) there are other aspects which reflect the fact that Communism was viable on a number of levels:

These measures will, of course, be different in different countries.

Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.

2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.

4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.

5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.

7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.

10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.

–          Once again I say that aspects are too theoretical … and frightening to suggest that such power resides solely within “centralization” … and it is probably within that main flaw that communism was so wrongly implemented … but .. education, public transportation, equal opportunity employment, etc. All are aspects of which create a worthy society and economy. And, once again, I state that this little pamphlet, only 50+ pages, outline an entire ideology and economic and societal state. Pretty amazing stuff.

On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.

You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.

In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.

From the moment when labour can no longer be converted into capital, money, or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolised, i.e., from the moment when individual property can no longer be transformed into bourgeois property, into capital, from that moment, you say, individuality vanishes.

You must, therefore, confess that by “individual” you mean no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property.

–          Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm … the popular American 1%/99% nomenclature of today … only stated at “the 10% at the expense of the 90%.”


I just selected some passages from this incredibly well written pamphlet. Do I agree with everything in it? Absolutely not. But as far as ideological writing it is on par with the Constitution. Well articulated thoughts conducted in absolute brevity.


One last thought.

“In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another will also be put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.” – Marx

In fairness to Marx, and in deference to the fact I call my site enlightened conflict always seeking to lessen hostility <or conflict> … Marx’s ultimate objective was ‘hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.”

So ends my reflection on two of the best written ideological documents of all time. Heck. Two of the best written documents, of any type, of all time.

In this post the Communist Manifesto and the one before the American Constitution.

Depending on where you live you will … well … live by some of these words.

But. Wherever you live you should read these two documents and think.

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Written by Bruce